In ‘Small Axe,’ Letitia Wright Plays a Real-Life Black Panther

In a phone interview, Wright discussed her introduction to the “Small Axe” project, the layered nature of racism in British society and the importance of telling stories about Black life in Britain on a grand scale. These are edited excerpts from that conversation.

How did you first come to be involved in “Small Axe?”

In 2015, I saw a listing on IMDb for an upcoming project that would look at the lives of the Caribbean community in England. I thought, “Wow, this is me!” I’m from Guyana. [Wright was born in Georgetown, and moved to London at the age of 7.] Geographically it’s in South America, but our culture is very influenced by the Caribbean, and we are considered Caribbean. I asked my agent to keep track of it, and thank God she did.

In 2018 I was on holiday in Trinidad and Tobago, and I got an email saying that Steve McQueen and Gary [Davy, casting director] wanted to meet me about what was now titled “Small Axe.” I was like, “Wow, cool, so they are still making it!”

I know Steve is a great artist, but I wanted to pick his brain a bit. Why this story, why now? He said: “The window for our elders’ stories to be told is closing. We can’t allow them to pass away and become our ancestors without them seeing themselves, their culture and everything they’ve contributed to the country represented onscreen.” I was sold, so, at the end of the meeting, I said “When do I audition?” He looked at me, then at Gary, and said: “You just did your audition. It was all the work you’ve been doing and creating in the world.” He trusted me from the get go, and I will always keep that experience very dear to me.

How much did you know about the Mangrove story coming into the project?

I grew up with my dad giving me books about Egypt, teaching me about African kings and queens and Mansa Musa, and educating me that, as a people, we weren’t slaves but we were enslaved. But, strangely enough, I didn’t know about the different aspects of our history in Britain.

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